If ever there was a film where I felt like I should have had a hard time staying awake, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy would be it. A “slow burn” if ever there was one. Scratch that. It’s a slow burn hitching a ride on a tortoise.
The Cold War is on and there is a spy within the ranks of MI-6. Former agent George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought back, years after being fired, to head up the investigation. His detective work leads him through all the potential suspects. He digs into every aspect of their whereabouts during a botched Hungarian operation. Smiley is looked upon with much suspicion since his sudden return leads many to doubt his allegiances.
Even though it is one of the quieter spy movies, Tinker has an appeal in the way some of the best documentaries do. We get to observe people doing their jobs. We get to observe them skillfully go about their business. Of course, the characters and plot here are all fiction, but the appeal of the performances and the realism of the setting make for an oddly engaging film.
The plot is not all that inventive. Spies who work both sides are nothing unusual, at least not in fiction. There are interesting sub-plots though; small stories within the larger investigation that are more thrilling than Smiley cracking the case.
Staying awake during a film is not a ringing endorsement. Yet Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is one of those films that tests your patience with its deliberate pace and, at the same time, wins you over with great performances and attention to details normally left out of the modern day spy genre.